Chris Maury | Crain's Pittsburgh

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Chris Maury

Background:  

Conversant Labs helps developers build quality voice-based apps that assist the blind with tasks like online shopping and cooking. The first application for online shopping, SayShopping, was released in partnership with Target.

The Mistake:

My big mistake was in not talking to Target sooner.

We started working on SayShopping in January 2014 and immediately went to Amazon, the biggest retailer in the country, but we were unable to get a conversation with them. We also reached out to Wal-Mart, but they didn’t offer the access that we needed either.

At the time, Amazon and Wal-Mart offered a public partnership/affiliate program for resellers. They had a good way that allowed anyone to sell products on their site as long as they finished the checkout on their website. So we also began looking into third-party businesses and working with sellers who were putting their products on the sites.

The problem was doing this required access to certain services – like checkout – that they didn’t offer publicly. We spent a lot of time going down the Amazon and Wal-Mart rabbit hole, a big waste of both time and resources.

We should have connected with Target at our first opportunity. We had met Target’s team at an accessibility conference shortly after we began work on the platform, before we launched, and we knew that they took accessibility to information very seriously. But we didn’t pursue it because they didn’t offer the same level of public services as Amazon and Wal-Mart.

Explore all of your options at the beginning, even if you initially discount one of them.

The Lesson: 

I only reconnected with Target when I realized Wal-Mart and Amazon weren’t going to work out. Target was all ears. They offered us access to the data we needed to complete SayShopping and worked with us to promote the app. Their vice president of products in charge of web and mobile sites gave a keynote speech to 3,000 blind people at National Federation of the Blind’s annual convention. They were great to work with.

Explore all of your options at the beginning, even if you initially discount one of them. Gather as much information as you can and make an informed decision minus preconceived notions and bias. Don’t give into analysis paralysis.

Follow Chris Maury on Twitter at @CMaury.

Image courtesy of Conversant Labs

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